Marbled Murrelet Conservation Issues in Washington

Marbled Murrelet Conservation Issues in Washington

If you are new to conservation advocacy and unfamiliar with the many acronyms, please take a moment to read 11 Acronyms to Save the Murrelet

Marbled Murrelet’s nesting habitat is present on federal lands (national parks, national forests), tribal lands, private land, and state land. In Washington, 11% of the murrelets nesting habitat occurs on forested lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

In 1997, the DNR made commitments to protect Marbled Murrelet habitat in its Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), a plan that allows the DNR to obtain the required “take” permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  Since 1997 the DNR has operated under an “interim” conservation strategy based on what little science was available at the time. The “interim” strategy has been in place for 20 years now and has proven to be inadequate for providing meaningful protection to Washington’s murrelet populations.  Populations have declined 44% between 2001 and 2015 according to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

On December 2, 2016, the DNR and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the six alternatives of the Marbled Murrelet Long Term Conservation Strategy for the Western Washington HCP Planning Units: Straits, Olympic Experimental State Forest, South Coast, Columbia, South Puget, and North Puget.  The public comment period (written only) deadline is March 9, 2017.  When all comments are reviewed, responded to, and analyzed, the BNR will select its preferred alternative, likely in 2018.  The chosen alternative will replace the 1997 interim conservation strategy and will remain in effect until 2067.

Black Hills Audubon Society members have been actively engaged in every step of the development of the conservation strategy and advocated successfully to have a science-based alternative included among the six alternatives.  Though the most conservative of the alternatives, “Alternative F,” still falls short of making a significant improvement to the murrelet’s plight.  A coalition of conservation groups is currently analyzing all the alternatives and will provide significant input on the DEIS.

Unfortunately, protecting Marbled Murrelets is not a matter of not logging. The DNR is legally mandated to produce revenue from their forested trust lands to fund state public institutions (public schools, community colleges, universities, prisons, and mental hospitals) and county services (roads, hospitals, and libraries). The DNR is also legally required under the Endangered Species Act to protect habitat for Marbled Murrelets. Meeting these two conflicting goals—to cut the forests to generate revenue and to save the forests to protect Murrelets is one of the most daunting conservation challenges facing our state and communities.